Unfinished Business Part I: A Guest Post by Stan Morris
Editor’s note: Several months ago, Stan Morris sent us his personal account of the 2016 Eugene Marathon. We were touched by his story and found his experience all at once similar and distinct from other race reports. In many respects, we felt that Stan spoke to the broader experience of the marathon; breathtakingly hard but never harder than the human spirit. Inspired by this piece, we decided to share it with you – our community. Because without community, there would be no races, no starting lines, and with no one to share our stories. Stan’s account has been lightly edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Minneapolis Running.
I climbed into bed and pulled the sheets to my chin. I was ready for some serious sleep but, with my first marathon only hours away, I had a hard time falling asleep. My mind was racing everywhere. I finally began to think about how big the next day’s event would be – but it was more than just a single event. It was part of a much greater journey, a journey of recovery. Those close to me know that I buried my oldest son 6 years ago and 2 years later buried my wife of 40 years. Most of the world that I knew and loved crumbled with their deaths. I spent 3 unhealthy years sort of going nowhere but, at the suggestion of a friend, began training for a half marathon in 2013. That was a turning point. During that training I learned that healing came as a by-product of physical activity and rigorous training. I took that lesson to the bank. I completed my first half marathon in 2013 and the following year hiked the 2,600 mile Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. The marathon I was about to run would be another step in that journey but, unlike the prior events, it had a place in my heart that the others couldn’t touch. It had a special place because, by running a marathon, I would be completing unfinished business. I would be fulfilling a dream I shared with my oldest son. I drifted off to sleep with that thought.
The sound of the 4 a.m. alarm broke my peaceful sleep. It was Sunday, May 1 and time for me to get ready for the start of the Eugene Marathon. “I’m ready for this” was my first thought. Sometimes I had a pleasant sense of confidence about my readiness. More often, I had uneasiness about something unexpected happening during the race that would keep me from crossing the finish line. It could be cramps, blisters, exhaustion or something else I hadn’t imagined. The uncertainty left a pit in my stomach. Regardless of the things that could potentially go wrong, I shifted my focus back to that of having a good run. At this time I really did feel ready.
I hadn’t always felt ready. Training for my first half marathon was anything but pleasant. I was discouraged by training runs where I stopped and walked.When my mind told me that I was too tired to continue, I listened rather than pushing on through the discomfort. Even on race day, I struggled during the final mile because my muscles were so fatigued and it felt like I would never see the finish line. To a guy who believed that mind control was one of his strengths, this was a pretty humbling and discouraging situation. Even though I’ve run half marathon distances many times since then with no problems (and have even medaled in my age group), my first half marathon experience 3 years earlier haunted me and affected my preparation for the day’s marathon. Through most of my training I had a small inner voice asking, “If the first half marathon was so tough, what makes you think you’ll be able to complete your first full marathon? It will be SO much tougher!” By the time I got to the last month of training, though, I was probably in the best shape of my adult life. I was ready, but was not the least bit overconfident. I was excited, but also nervous. I believe I had a healthy balance of optimism and caution.
After getting out of bed, I began loading the blender with almonds, oats, cherries, yogurt and a banana – the concoction that would later fuel me through 26.2 miles. I worried that the sound of the blender would wake others in the motel, but once the motor started running, the sound wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated. Besides, every other motel room likely had a runner inside. After I’d eaten my “run potion,” I showered, dressed, and meticulously taped my feet. Lastly, I swallowed an Ibuprofen, electrolyte, salt and Aleve cocktail. Feeling no pain at the moment, the cocktail was a pre-emptive strike against the pain that would undoubtedly rear it’s ugly head during the race. With preparations done, my wife and I headed out the door to catch the shuttle to Hayward Field in Track Town, U.S.A.
While looking out at the passing buildings through the shuttle window, I began to contemplate the significance of the day. Its genesis was really conversations with my oldest son when he was bicycling across the U.S. in 2010. During the trip, we talked on the phone almost daily about how things were going and many times discussed running a marathon together once he returned. I don’t remember which one of us first suggested the idea, but we were both committed. Tragically, he was killed east of Des Moines, IA and the run never happened. So the marathon I was about to run was more than just a 67 year old man running 26.2 miles for the first time in his life. It was a father completing unfinished business with his son. Spectators might see me running solo, but in my heart, every step of the race would be with my son. I had to finish the job and I had to do so with strength and dignity. I would honor my son today; I would fulfill our dream. All of a sudden I realized that the bus had stopped and runners were already unloading. I grabbed my bag and rushed off the bus.
There was a sea of people at the starting gate. There were roughly 1,700 marathon runners that were joined by 2,500 half marathoners who would share the first 10 miles of the course. We found “Corral D”, the starting area for those of us anticipating a 4:30 finish, and then I went to find the portable toilets for my last pre-race visit with Mother Nature. My first race-time jitters set in when I saw the line in front of the toilets; Each line was at least a dozen people long. I panicked, but the lines moved along pretty fast and minutes later I was standing in my pace group waving.
The masses in front of me finally began to move. Unlike what I had anticipated, I heard no boom of a gun signaling the race start, nor did I see runners sprinting away at blinding speeds. Back where I was, the mass of runners was more like a freight train laboring to get up to traveling speed. The first 10 steps were almost like walking but gradually became a jog. About 200 feet later, and still moving pretty slowly, I crossed the starting line and the computer chip in my race bib registered my start. I was now on the 2016 Eugene Marathon radar and the race was underway.
Stay tuned for part II!